ECS talks definition of faculty service hours

Ryan Jarvi

In preparation for an upcoming faculty forum, the Executive Committee of the Senate discussed Friday the faculty responsibility of “service,” its varied definitions across campus departments and the role it
plays in Grand Valley State University’s mission of being a teaching-first school.

The forum, which could be as soon as Oct. 25, will be held “to have a conversation with faculty about
issues of concern,” said Karen Gipson, chair of the University Academic Senate and professor in the
physics department.

One concern that arose from discussions was the number of different definitions of “service.”

“In my department, we have people who have never—and probably will never—serve on a committee in
their lifetimes, not if they can help it,” said Tonya Parker, vice chair of UAS and professor in the
movement science department. “That’s just how they feel about what service is, so they define it very

According GVSU’s Faculty Handbook, service consists of both contributions to the department and
committee responsibilities, which may be at the university, college or unit level. Service can also
include deevloping curriculum, advising student organizations and carrying out special assignments,
among other activities.

However, the definition often depends on how each college or unit determines what types of activities
qualify as service.

“You’ve got this kind of distributing model where the handbook articulates broad principles, the
colleges each determine those broad principles in their own distinctive ways, then the units come up
with their own standards,” said Charles Pazdernik, chair of the department of classics. “Every unit,
much less any college, has its own distinctive take on what’s meaningful service.”

According to GVSU’s Administrative Manual, service to the unit, college and university, as well as the
community or profession, is considered part of faculty workload.

The manual states, “Community service and service to the profession involves the engagement of a
faculty member’s professional expertise,” which can include “but is not limited to, engaging in
community outreach, acting as a board member in a community based organization, participating in
public service programs, and work as a pro bono consultant on community projects when
representing the university.”

Service for pay
Senators raised the question of what service means outside of serving on university or department
committees, which can occasionally result in extra pay for faculty.

“There’s certain service activities the university actually compensates people for, and I’m wondering if
that makes a difference,” said Deana Weibel, professor of anthropology. “Should it count as service if
you’re getting paid for something?”

Joy Washburn, professor in the Kirkhof College of Nursing, was given an honorarium—a payment for
services when fees are not legally required—when she went to Aruba to teach for a week this summer.

“It wasn’t like it was this huge stipend or anything, but if I had refused it, I would have caused,
basically, an international incident,” she said, adding that other cultures must be considered, as well.

Brian Lakey, professor of psychology, asked whether consulting should be considered service.

“Consulting that you’re paid to do, that amounts to a substantial amount of money,” Lakey said. “With
that kind of service, I would be inclined to say no, that’s extra professional income, that’s not service.”

Washburn also said she sees a fair amount of confusion among faculty about how to classify certain
activities when determining service credits.

“Exactly what do you put where and what counts for what?” she asked. “I’ve asked three different
people in my college where do I put the invite to Aruba, and I’ve gotten three different answers. I have
no idea where to put it.”

Bob Frey, professor from the management department, said he can’t see how something can be
counted as service credit if it’s compensated, “but a variant of that is if you’re paid for it and then you
contribute the fees to the scholarship fund. Does it suddenly become service?”

Senators also brought up whether or not mentoring and advising students should be considered

Stipends and compensation have been provided to faculty members for advising students who come
in as transfer students or for freshman orientation, senators said, but Weibel said, “If they weren’t
doing that, it would be a disaster.”

Role of service
Some senators also questioned the role service plays at GVSU and whether research and teaching
should be seen as more important.

“I don’t think we’re going to become a better university by spending more time at committee
meetings,” Lakey said. “It’s something that must be done, absolutely, but I think that teaching and
research is more important than service to be honest with you. I think part of the problem is that we
waste a lot of time at meetings.”

Senators also noted frustrations over the different levels of commitment required while serving on
various committees, which may account for low participation of committee service.

“If you’re on one committee, there’s a lot more work than if you’re on others,” Washburn said. “Yet in
our college, everybody gets the same amount of credit. Yes, it shows up on your faculty activity
report, but they don’t differentiate it.”

Lakey mentioned the number of hours committees have spent addressing a standardized teaching
evaluation instrument that can be used across campus.

“I think part of the reason why people avoid it is because there’s some issues (that) burn through
hundreds and thousands of faculty hours with very little to show for it,” he said. “So I don’t think more
hours is the problem. I think that the low participation is a reflection of the economics of faculty
members spending their time.”

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